If you walk down the street in Tbilisi, the capital of the country of Georgia, you’re going to find a whole lot of bakeries. They make this special type of bread. It’s called tonis puri, bread made in a tonis oven, this oven like a tandoor. So you shape the dough into this long football shape…it’s then slapped up onto the wall of the oven and bakes. You know it’s ready when you can just peel it off the wall. And it’s best if it goes right out of the oven and into the customer’s hands.
This hot, fresh bread—doughy and soft on the inside, crispy on the outside with just a hint of salt.
Or maybe think about here: One of our members introduced our Georgian guests this week to the dough-based delight of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. That “Hot Now” light flashing. People cross three lanes of traffic to duck in for a bite. Throw a little sugar on bread and you’ve got desert (or breakfast).
And then there was the trip that we made to the Winkler bakery in Old Salem this week. You take a step back in time to this eighteenth century bakery. There’s the stone oven, the cast-iron tools, the people in these old costumes. But it’s not really that much different from the bakery on the corner in today’s Tbilisi. And, for that matter, not that far removed from the Krispy Kreme bakery.
Flour, water, salt, yeast—maybe some embellishments like sugar or cinnamon. All you need is heat and an appetite. Bread has been the staple—is the staple—of almost every culture, every time. No matter where you go in this world, when you sit down for dinner, you’re bound to find some variation of simple bread.
Yes, in Jesus’ time too… The people are mystified that this kid from Nazareth—you know, Joseph’s boy—would say something so bold. The bread of life from heaven? His flesh for the life of the world. What does all that mean?
We may not totally comprehend it, but at least Jesus is speaking in a language that we can all understand. The bread of heaven, the manna in the wilderness, no matter who we are, this is the food, the sustenance that fills us when we are in trouble. This is the fuel that keeps us going when we don’t know what else to do. This is the nourishment that we need to help us grow in our trust in God, to flourish in our faith.
It is Jesus, that bread of life, that binds us as people of God. Whenever you gather around table, whenever you break bread with another person, a bond is formed. And whenever we break bread with Jesus, its a bond that transcends time and space, language and culture.
It’s sometimes hard to see that though, isn’t it? We are very, very good at finding things to divide us up…whether that be the color of our skin, or the language that we speak, or the way we pray to God. Many of you have heard stories from our Georgian guests of the difficulties of being a Lutheran Christian in a country that is so dominated by one church—the Georgian Orthodox Church. There is no room at that table for any deviation. And they face real discrimination, real persecution for being different.
And in the same way, our guests have heard and seen some of our own challenges in this country—racial problems, economic struggles, the widening gap between rich and poor, the fact that we’ve never been so connected…yet never felt more isolated.
In these short two weeks, we’ve perhaps discovered that we all share a common struggle. We have all been like Elijah at one time or another, stumbling through the wilderness, not sure of what to do next, not really certain that there’s a way out of our troubles.
But the Christian life means bearing one another’s burdens. Even if we can’t quite grasp what the other person is going through. It means praying for one another, even if we don’t have the words. It means loving each other, even when we are distant.
Like grains of wheat, Jesus gathers us, to become the bread of life for the world. That is a calling that goes beyond the limits of nations and peoples and even time itself.
I think it’s appropriate today that we celebrate the baptism of Grace Ashburner. Grace is joining all of us as a child of God, she is part of this every growing family. She will grow up and face challenges that we may not be able to understand, she will be a part of a world that may be totally foreign to many of us. But we will be bound together and she will have a place at the table beside all of us—no matter what happens, no matter what challenges she faces.
She is part of a fellowship that includes all of us here, those across the ocean, high up in the Caucasus mountains, those who have come before us and those who aren’t here yet.
Jesus came so that each and every one of us may know that we are loved. And with that love, that eternal love, we are given our daily bread. We are given life that can never be taken away, life that fills us and sustains us for whatever lies ahead. The bread that is on every table, the staple food that each and every one of us receives.
One of our members this week remarked how amazing it was this week to meet “someone from 3000 miles away, in a different country who loves the same God and to see that love on their faces.” May that be the case for whomever we meet. Wherever they come from, whatever they look like, whatever they’ve been through—may we always welcome them to the table, share our bread with them, and see God’s boundless love through their eyes.
The invitation is open. Christ calls us forward, whoever we are: taste and see that the Lord is good.